I leave today for Brewarrina, 100kms east of Bourke. I will be speaking at a NSW Farmer’s Forum on the issues I raised in my column in The Land of 3rd February.
The latest round of restrictions on tree clearing in NSW and Queensland were driven in part by the Federal Government’s global warming concerns and our Kyoto target.
At Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 the Australian government agreed to a target of limiting greenhouse gas emissions to 108 per cent of 1990 emissions over the period 2008-2012.
But Canberra has never formalized this deal. It says the Kyoto Protocol does not provide a comprehensive, environmentally effective long-term response to climate change. Nor are there clear pathways for action by developing countries, and the United States has indicated it won’t sign.
Without commitments by all the major emitters, the Federal Government says the protocol will deliver only about one per cent reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions.
However, the federal Environment Minister, Senator Ian Campbell, late last year restated Australia’s commitment to meeting its target and praised the “tremendous effort by governments, industry and the Australian community” in cutting emissions.
Indeed, the Federal government report, Tracking the Kyoto Target 2004, indicates Australia is on target. But what the Minister did not acknowledge was this was mostly a consequence of restricting and redefining ‘tree clearing’.
The report says vegetation management legislation recently introduced into Queensland and NSW will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 24.4 million tonnes. By comparison, the energy sector increased emissions by 85 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent during the period 1990 to 2002.
The total reduction attributed to ‘land use change’, which includes reduced tree clearing, is 78 million tonnes for the same period. So the increase in emissions from the energy sector has been offset by clearing fewer trees – at tremendous cost to individual landholders in Queensland and New South Wales, yet the Minister made no mention of this.
He may be down playing land clearing for the following reason.
What is known as the “Australia Clause” (Article 3.7) in the Kyoto Protocol allows countries for which land use change and forestry was a net source of emissions in 1990 to include the emissions from land use change in their 1990 baseline.
It has been claimed that the Australian national greenhouse office consequently exaggerated the extent of the clearing in 1990 to give an inflated baseline value and at the same time not recorded carbon sinks resulting from forest growth and woodland thickening.
This made it easier to achieve the Kyoto target for 2008-2012.
Ecologist, Bill Burrows, writing in the international journal Global Change Biology in 2002 explained how Australia’s often quoted total net greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by 25 per cent if we included the sinks resulting from woodland thickening in our National Greenhouse Gas Inventory.
But this would also affect our 1990 baseline and make it harder for the ‘accountants’ to suggest we are on target, and even more difficult to justify the draconian vegetation management laws.
Dr Burrows calculates the annual carbon sink in about 60 million hectares of grazed woodland in Queensland alone is about 35 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.
So we have a Federal Government pretending to meet its obligations to an agreement it hasn’t signed up to using accounting practices that deny the phenomenon of vegetation thickening.